Dear President Obama: An Open Thank-You Letter From A Gay Dad
Dear President Obama,
I suppose I should start by saying thank you. When my husband and I celebrated the birth of our son Gabriel in November of 2015, you sent us a kind note, congratulating our family on a very momentous occasion. We’re proud to have framed the note, and its envelope, and it now hangs in Gabe’s bedroom, protected behind glass.
We’ve yet to find a way to keep Gabe protected in the same way. He’s a fearless little guy, climbing anything he can get his hands and feet wedged into for long enough to secure himself, which means he falls. Daddy and Papa are no strangers to Band-Aids now, or the heaving sobs of a baby nuzzling into our shirts for comfort and for a reprieve from the shock and pain of a world that feels too big and too scary.
While Gabe is fearless, his Dads are not.
My husband and I moved in together in November of 2008, a year in which our nation elected you, our first black president. Dominic and I were best friends for years prior; when we decided to live together and pursue a romantic relationship, the possibility of getting married was a moving target on a distant horizon, certainly nothing we could count on.
Your administration helped change that for us, for my family. To hear a sitting president validate what we felt in our own hearts, to have the leader of the free world make the case for our love, to have that support translated into the bravery of men like Jim Obergefell, and to have marriage equality become the law of the land under your watch, with your full-throated endorsement? There are no words.
The fall of 2012 saw Dominic and I married, surrounded by family and friends, having given our first dance to my grandparents, celebrating 70 years of marriage to the song they first danced to: “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.”
We learn how to love by watching those around us who have done it better, and for longer.
With access to marriage equality came access to the full rights and benefits entrusted to all other loving married couples. We could protect one another, my husband and I. And that carries more emotional value than perhaps I’m equipped to explain. President Obama, it’s difficult to plainly state the significance of holding our wedding photo next to yours, husband and husband, husband and wife, seeing faces that do not look the same, but are.
We knew that “Dom” and “Ant” were meant to be “Papa” and “Daddy,” long before Obergefell, yet Obergefell extended to our family those aforementioned rights and benefits, which included the ability to work to become fathers. We wanted to raise another voice into and above the cacophony of sound, quietly able to say “please” and “thank you,” and kind enough to mean it.
Dom and I worked through an adoption agency and were matched with a birth mother who found our profile online. She loved that my husband was an English teacher, and that I was a hockey goalie.
She saw the names “Dom” and “Ant.” She made us “Papa” and “Daddy.”
Gabe was born on November 9, 2015. I was seated in the delivery room, right next to his birth mother, and I kissed her on the forehead when I heard my son cry for the very first time.
You see, President Obama, our son’s birth mother had decided that she wanted my face to be the very first face Gabe saw when he opened his eyes. And it was. My son’s very first impressions of the world were of a father who would stand guard over his son, protect him, guide him, an unrelenting and unyielding promise.
We were given the privilege to become fathers, entrusted with the most sacred of all responsibilities, and we vowed before friends and family to do everything within our power to keep our promises, to make good on our word.
Our tiny family worked toward visibility. Through conversation and a firm commitment to openness, we invited strangers into our lives, to see our family in a way they might not have. The election of our first black president is a beacon to other young men and women to seek out the future they deserve; so too, then, did we engage steadfastly in an invitation to our community, to empower those around us to believe that the secret to achieving lifelong dreams is hard work, and yes, hope.
We received your congratulatory note, and we pushed our way out into the world, engaging, living, parenting. In the primaries, we pulled the lever for our family, together.
As the 2016 election approached, it was incomprehensibly difficult to have conversations with members of our community who planned to cast their vote for Mr. Trump. We couldn’t make the case plainly or clearly enough that the platform on the other side would directly threaten my family’s right to exist. That a vote for Mr. Trump was a vote for the kind of ugliness and bullying that would harden my son’s world, that it wouldn’t square with any expression of love for families like ours.
On election night, because of our support for the Hillary Clinton campaign, my husband and I were given a pair of tickets to the Javits Center, to be there in person as the glass ceiling shattered, to witness history, and to celebrate the preservation of all the rights for which we’d fought so hard, and for so long.
It was the night before Gabe’s 1st birthday.
Suffice to say, the next day was difficult. I’d excuse myself from the room, go into the bathroom, and sob, trying to be as quiet as possible. I didn’t want my son’s 1st birthday to be anything other than perfect. I didn’t want anyone to know how consumed I was by what we had affirmed about ourselves as a nation by electing Mr. Trump. I didn’t want to know the terror of what my son’s world could be. Birthday candles grant wishes, and as I held my husband’s hand, our son in our arms, I wished for any other outcome, for any way out.
But wishes don’t weigh more than truth, or facts. Mr. Trump became the nation’s 45th president, and we watched the world change around us once again, a stain spreading on a shirt we’d worked too hard to clean.
We’ve been told that Mr. Trump is a friend of the LGBTQ community, that neither he nor his administration would seek to peel back the rights of the community. And then, as we feared, piece by piece and in ways both small and large, it started to happen. And not just to the LGBTQ community, but to women through a global gag order, to disabled children by repeated attempts to strip their medical care. Through Muslims kept out, through Russians kept in, through back channels and clandestine meetings. Through walls. And through lies, smearing our nation’s truth.
President Obama, I believe as you do, empirically, that a community of parents can work together to create a world for their children that is better than the one we were given. I believe that basic version of our once-American dream. But those promises scrawled out for generations, they’re having a harder time leaping off the pages at me. I have always had words, used them as a weapon and a shield. But even the words now feel inadequate.
I am forgetting how to hope.
I know that 2018 presents a chance to redirect ourselves, to pull the conversation back into a place that is productive, a national do-over in the world of discourse, in courtesy, and in kindness. But my family? We have to live every minute of every day between now and then, careening from headline to headline, waiting for the “Breaking News” chyron that brings me and my tiny family to our knees, unsure of where Mr. Trump’s next plodding step will lead us.
I would never surrender my voice in the dialogue of compassionate creation, I believe fervently that good-meaning men and women who commit to education and empowerment can successfully navigate the world alongside their children, can chart new pathways forward. The steps parents create in the snow are big enough for our children to step into.
I just can’t find a way around the cold.
Mr. Rogers taught us as children to look for the helpers. And so, President Obama, I need help. You once said, “No matter who you are or what you look like, how you started off, or how and who you love, America is a place where you can write your own destiny.”
We named our son Gabriel, the historical bringer of good news. It seems a far-too-appropriate name for him, with his smile occupying all of the real estate on his face. All I want for him, for my son, is to be able to give him some good news of his own, to promise him that our world will be just fine, that we are not in danger. That he is loved.
We read your note often, a reminder of leadership in a world ever-more flushed of it. You have served this nation with honor and distinction, with grace and humility, with compassion and kindness and courage. My family, and our nation, are better for it.
Please, don’t let us forget it.
Anthony, Dominic, and Gabriel